My parents made great effort, at tremendous personal danger, to give us a proper chassidic upbringing and to set us on the path of religious observance. Aside from learning Torah with us themselves, our parents also took the risk of sending us to a strictly illegal traditional Jewish school, a cheder.

My first teacher, with whom I learned in 1944, was R. Zushe Paz, who was known by all as R. Zushe der shamash, the attendant. He was a short man with a flowing white beard, and he He was a deeply devoted educatorwas tough. He didn’t use a leather strap to hit us as teachers of the previous generation were accustomed to doing, but he would punish students with a slap of his gartel, the soft fabric belt used for prayer. We children were still afraid of him.

Even though his tough persona made him come across to us children as a somewhat terrifying figure, it was clear that he was a deeply devoted educator, with a genuine care for his students.

I later heard that R. Zushe took no personal remuneration for teaching us: he did his work solely for the sake of heaven. With the money he did receive, he would prepare bread and butter for the boys every morning. In those days of famine there wasn’t much, and you could barely discern the little dabs of butter in the cracks of the dark bread, but for our malnourished bodies, beginning the day with some buttered bread was revitalizing. He was tough, and he cared, and he was a good teacher.

He taught his students to pray with a singsong tune, and ensured that every letter received its proper enunciation and emphasis. One time, when I was leading a minyan, R. Chaim Zalman Kozliner was among the crowd present, and he approached me afterwards and said, “From hearing the way you read the words, I think you must have learned to read and pray with R. Zushe der shamash.”

When he grew older, Reb Zushe relocated to Moscow. I heard that every Shabbos morning he would walk two hours each way to immerse in the mikvah, so as to properly prepare for his prayers, as is the chassidic custom.

For a few months I also learned with a non-chassidic, Lithuanian Jew by the Beginning the day with some buttered bread was revitalizingname of R. Moshe Vinarski, who taught us the weekly Torah reading, along with its Aramaic translation, every Friday. Another teacher we had for a few months was R. Berel Gurevich, and for nearly a year I learned with R. Avrohom Yosef Entin, a former student and secretary of one of the greatest rabbis to come out of Lithuania, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, popularly referred to as the Chofetz Chaim. R. Avrohom Yosef supplied the Jewish community of Samarkand with yearly Jewish calendars, which he would calculate and write himself, a difficult but vital service. Those were relatively short periods of my life, but with my child’s sense of time, they seemed like a long while.